Nearly home, I walked slowly beside my bike. There were a lot less trees at this part of the road. From a glance, no one would guess about a mile out would be dense forest. It was like there was a dividing line--a border between the little neighborhood I lived in and the deep woods with houses tucked away far down long, winding driveways. Mother was always worried about me going out too far, but I never rode more than a couple of miles out that way. A blue corvette with white trim pulled up beside me. I recognized the driver. She was a girl from one of my classes, Tamara. Her fake blonde hair stuck to her face. "Need a lift?" "My house is right there." I pointed at the house two doors down. "Kinda small, ain't it?" She popped her gum. "The others 'round here are so much bigger. Is it an old one?" I rolled my eyes at her thinly veiled 'you're so poor' statement. "Yeah, it's from the '50's. It's the only house still left from back then." "Wow, it's like you live in a museum. What's it like on the inside?" "Not much different than most houses, other than bad wiring and crappy heating." "That sucks." She turned down her radio and leaned across the front passenger seat. Lowering her voice, she asked, "Hey, do you know those people behind us? Over by the Stop sign?" I glanced back. A strange old couple stood behind the sign, staring dead at us. The man had a unkempt beard and drank beer as he watched us. The woman lit up a cigarette beside him. The two of them had a ragged look about them--strung out and with heavy bags under their bloodshot eyes. Their gaze was unblinking and unnerving. "No...I've never seen those people before." I whispered. "You sure you don't want a ride? Like just around for a while. They look like they're up to somethin'." I didn't really like the idea of riding around with her, but I knew Mom and Darian wouldn't be home right now. It was a better option than going home paranoid. "Yeah, I guess." I opened the passenger door. As I stepped in, my foot met with nothing. I sank down through the car, falling into darkness. I couldn't see how far I'd gone, but it couldn't have been from very high. A couple of feet at most. "Hello?" Tamara's voice echoed, but I couldn't tell from where. "Can you hear me?" I called back. "Yes, where are you? You disappeared." "I don't know. Somewhere dark." A light shone in the distance. "Tamara, is that you?" There was no response. "Tamara, can you still hear me?" The light got closer. Desperately, I called out one more time. "Who's there?" "Run, over here!" The voice sounded familiar. There wasn't anything else I could do, so I followed. Everything around me was pitch black. I stood up and blindly ran to the light. There was no telling what I was running through. The light appeared to be coming towards me as fast as I was running to it. When I was close enough to touch it, a hand grabbed my own. "Come with me." I recognized the voice. Aaron. The light in his other hand was discarded to the ground. Upon impact, it burst into thousands of tiny sparks, illuminating the vast darkness. The world came into view in a sepia colored haze. We stood in a dark alleyway. The walls of the buildings on each side were as grimy as the ground below us. Glass littered our path to the street, the remnants of beer and wine bottles. "Where are we?" I felt like I'd been here before. "Nevermind. We have to go." "Why?" "Just run, and don't look back." He pulled me along as we exited that dirty place. The streets weren't much better than the alleyway, but there was more light. Despite his warning, I couldn't help myself. I looked back. That old couple was walking behind us. "Why are those people following me?" I picked up my pace to match his. "They want to keep you." "What for? I don't even know them." I glanced back at them again. They were running after us now. The way they moved--it was unnatural. Like dolls being played with by a child, their limbs hung and swayed with no sense of weight. "I have a family. I have a place to go home to!" The city street looked like it went on forever, and not a single person stood at any corner. An empty city, save for the four of us running through it. I had no one else to call out to. No one would help us. The footsteps behind us drew closer. I could hear those strangers breathing behind me. Suddenly, there was a wall of flames before us. I slowed down. "Don't. We must keep going." "But the fire!" "Close your eyes and run!" I hesitated, but did as he said. When I closed my eyes, I saw the moonlight. We were in that field of wave-like flowers. I opened my eyes to see the same sight. Again, this place. Next would be the bottom of the hill. I'm tired of dreaming. I pulled my hand away from his. "No, not again. I want it to stop." "You don't have time to stop." I kneeled down, cowering amongst the blue petals. "I'm tired of this. Why can't I wake up?" "You won't allow it. I'm trying to help you." He sat down beside me. "What do you mean? I don't want this. I want to wake up!" The flowers around us turned to water, rippling out from our bodies. The water wasn't deep like in the other dream. The depths was shallow, like a tiny pond. "I know you do, but you don't. You're resisting. We have to to go back." "Back to where?" "You know where." "No! Not that hill again. That just starts it over! I want to wake up!" "You're resisting again. That's why you can't wake up." He stood up and walked a few feet ahead of me. The moon reflected perfectly where he stopped. "I know you're afraid, but we don't have time. If you'd wake up, you'd understand everything." "Why can't you say it? Say what it is I don't understand." "I can't. You won't let me." The water started rising. "You won't hear me." "What do you mean?" I stood up. "This is your dream. What do you think it means?" He sunk down into the water. I ran toward him, but the water pushed me back. My feet started sinking too. As hard as I struggled, I couldn't stop myself from sinking deeper. The water pulled me under into another darkness. The only light left was the pale, distant moon fading from me. And then nothing. "Hello, Allison." I opened my eyes to see my math textbook. Tamara tapped on my desk. "You feelin' alright? This is the third day in a row you've fallen asleep in class." She popped her gum and twirled a lock of her curled hair. "Teacher's gonna catch you one day." I laid my head back down on the book. "Doesn't matter." "Why's that?" I closed my eyes. "Because...it's not real."
City | TOC